Value is defined by the receiver more than the giver.
The title of this article is the first sentence of our latest book Victory Through Organization, and it captures in twelve words the focus of our last twenty years of work since HR Champions was published in 1997. In those twenty years, we have surveyed, observed, coached, facilitated, and consulted with tens of thousands of HR professionals and thousands of organizations to discover how HR can deliver business success by creating more value.
We have helped coin and define many terms that shape HR’s impact: business partner, organization capability, HR transformation, strategic HR, HR strategy, HR governance (three-pillar model), HR deliverables, HR outside-in, leadership capital index, employee contribution, HR competencies, and so forth.
We continue to focus on business impact through value creation, and we seek to learn how to deliver business success through HR. Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to the HR Congress, a gathering of over 600 HR professionals. I was challenged by Mihaly Nagy,, the organizer to deliver a closing keynote that would capture the themes of dozens of remarkable speakers and (hopefully) inspire attendees to reimagine their careers.
So, I organized my remarks around a simple question, “On a score of 0 to 10, how much value do I create?” This open-ended, intentionally vague question focused on the value of HR for the business more than the activities of HR.
Then I asked, “How can I create more?” With a show of hands, the answer to the first question ranged from 3 to 7. The answers to the second question varied by person; in addition, I offered eight tips for how I believe HR professionals can create more value for the business.
1. Recognize that value is defined by the receiver more than the giver.
A thoughtful participant in our HR Learning Partnership (HRLP, a consortium of six to eight companies sending five participants to an eleven-day experience) returned home excited to implement the ideas we taught. He called a few weeks later discouraged and said that our program had not worked.
I was very worried and wanted to know what we had done wrong, so I asked him what he did as a result of his experience with us. He had surveyed his business leaders asking which of about twenty HR innovations they felt were most relevant to their work. But they did not answer with verve and seemed disinterested.
It hit me that he had taken the wrong directive away from the consortium, and that we had not delivered our message clearly enough. Business leaders generally do not care much about which of twenty HR practices matter most; they care about the business.
His survey should have been about which of ten business priorities (e.g., cost, innovation, customer share, quality, revenue growth, etc.) mattered most to them. His HR job was then to make HR innovations and practices relevant to these business problems. HR is not about HR but the business!
2. Serve internal and external stakeholders.
I like to ask HR professionals: “Who are your customers?” Inevitably a large percent of any HR audience will say employees or line managers. Right and wrong. When HR focuses on the business more than on HR, its customers are the stakeholders of the business; this does include employees and managers inside the company, but it also encompasses customers, investors, and communities outside. The value of HR is not just what happens inside the company but outside as well.
3. Appreciate and anticipate the business context.
The world of business is changing dramatically. For HR professionals to deliver value in the future to all stakeholders, they have to be aware of the context in which they operate.
This requires examining the social, technological, economic, political, environmental, and demographic (STEPED) trends that shape a country or industry. HR professionals should do external sensing to bring this contextual information inside the firm, anticipate how those changes will affect the firm, and successfully navigate them.
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